A gift in the chaos

In Newsletter Editorial5 MinutesBy Gavin MyersOctober 29, 2021

The other day I was chatting to my brother-in-law, who lives in Florida and is always intrigued by the differences (and similarities) between the world’s most powerful democracy and little ole New Zealand.

There was the usual Covid-19 update and a very interesting anecdote about Florida and California, the eastern state one of the more liberal when it comes to Covid lockdowns and restrictions, the western one of the stricter. Apparently, the differences between the two in infections, cases, deaths, vaccinations – all that stuff – have all but levelled out. Of course, think of that in the context of the USA as a country. But it’s interesting food for thought, nonetheless.

That led us to talk about the movement of people and goods within the respective countries, which led to the beleaguered global supply chain, which led to truck driving.

Like just about anywhere in the world, stateside trucking is currently suffering one of the worst driver shortages in its history – with a deficit approaching 100,000 and, according to the American Trucking Association, the need to recruit a million drivers by 2030 to replace retirees. Hauliers are desperate to solve that problem, trying to make the job as attractive as possible to keep the wheels of the economy moving.

Naturally, I plunged into some reading and noticed two basic strategies: money and happiness. Overall, truck driver pay is the highest it’s ever been, up an average of 10% in the past 12 months and more so since Covid-19 hit. Companies are offering obscene sign-on bonuses. Some drivers are even working less because they earn more per mile, meaning fewer hours on the road and more time at home. Attractive benefits sweeten the deal.

Of course, profitable times for truck drivers don’t only result from the need to make the job attractive. Consideration also has to be given to supply and demand – people need their stuff, and bottlenecks in a supply chain increase freight costs. You can imagine how even a 2c per mile increase adds up for a company with more than 500 trucks and 600 drivers on its books.

The make-up of America’s trucking industry is wide and varied, so that’s a simplistic summation at best, but there are certainly some parallels locally. Trucks need drivers, who are in short supply and getting older; drivers need remuneration, and pay is trending up; people need stuff, and they’re having to wait longer and pay more for it; and supply chains are still in disorder, adding pressure overall.

Our truckers are putting in the mahi, putting up with the continual difficulties of a Covid-19 world, and keeping the nation moving more than ever.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, one need only look at the year Britain has had to see how badly the situation can swing in the opposite direction. (At the risk of adding the topic of Brexit to the mix, we’ll leave that alone for now.)

We had an internal discussion about the above this week, and one thing became clear. The shining, bulleted, bottom-line consequence of the chaos of the past two years is how trucking and truck drivers are being seen as critical actors in the economy. Just as they once were. The world’s consumers recognise that trucks move the goods they need (who’d have guessed?) and what happens when there aren’t enough drivers to get the job done.

It’s a golden opportunity for the industry and could be the greatest gift to the future of the vocation in recent times. No matter where in the world you drive.

Take care out there,

Gavin Myers
Assistant editor